Discussion of food regulations among engineers or facility managers can elicit strong opinions, especially as waves of the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) roll out to the food industry. FSMA’s final audit rules are coming, and food manufacturers recognize that the addition of more automation to meet rules should spur better visibility into key performance indicators (KPIs) on the plant floor.
One of the preventive controls identified in FSMA is maintaining records of monitoring within the plant, such as batch ingredients or monitoring raw materials usage in a paper environment. The big question for food and beverage producers right now is how quickly audits will come from FDA, what’s on the checklist, and when do monitoring systems need to be in place?
“There is a lot of work going on, rewriting different branches of regulatory affairs to put criteria in place for inspection,” says Craig Nelson, principal at Food Automation LLC, via a webinar titled “Effective Navigation of FSMA Regulations.” “FDA has to work out actual enforcement policies.” The first pieces of the mandatory preventive controls implementation are in development, and Nelson believes inspectors will have final guidelines by the summer of 2018. For now, inspectors are using FSMA as a reference for any current recalls.
“Without guidance criteria, inspectors are taking different positions,” says Nelson. “In some states, they may even conduct some partial record audits, and others will conduct inspections of records and comply completely with the modernization act.”
Many food producers have been preparing for FSMA since its passage and have been adding data acquisition platforms or processes to their plant floors.
A Hillshire Farm plant in Texas moved in this direction by adding Rockwell Automation’s FactoryTalk VantagePoint software, ViewSite Edition and Historian. The plant produces 58 varieties of meals on a stick, from the classic state fair corn dogs to turkey dogs with a honey sweet batter to maple breakfast sausage wrapped in apple-cinnamon pancake batter.
Deviations in different food processing work cells could have a ripple effect at the plant. “We saw the plant get out of balance as product flowed at uneven or unforeseen rates from our meat area to the kitchen to the packaging area,” says Harvey Williams, manager for Hillshire’s Haltom City plant.
During one recent deviation in the hot dog cooking area, Williams was alerted to a cooker fault after a shift concluded. To get to the root problem, Williams had to loop in two value stream managers and the quality assurance manager. They had to look through manually entered operator data on water temperature from the entire shift to determine when the cooker faulted and decide how much and which product needed to be thrown out.
Things have changed, and production data is now fed into the plant historian. Then, Hillshire aggregates the production data – along with ERP and other databases – and correlates and presents production information to operations, so variances are identified and corrected in real time.
For example, the system has been set up to pull specific information from a fryer, recording temperatures at various levels and locations within the fryer to ensure all product is cooked evenly.
With the historian in place, Hillshire can extract exact serial numbers, dates and time-stamped details on which SKU numbers came from each specific line.